Mental health issues in a relationship can be tough to handle. They can be disruptive and difficult to communicate. They can be frustrating and lead to feelings of anger, resentment and jealousy.
Mental health and relationships can be tricky together. Mental health issues in a relationship means different things to different people.
It could mean one or both partners dealing with depression, anxiety, trauma and other common mental health issues. It could also mean unresolved grief from the death of a loved one or a past relationship. It could even mean one partner is struggling with addiction or an eating disorder.
Can your mental health mess with your relationship?
It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of isolation due to a perceived lack of self-worth. You don’t see anything in yourself worth dating, so you don’t try and date.
Plus, dating involves effort. Talking, getting to know someone, putting yourself out there mentally and physically can take a toll on us emotionally.
All whilst battling something like depression, this is sometimes too much to bear.
So, how does mental illness affect relationships?
By high school, I’d already concluded that I would die alone. A little dramatic, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption at the time. I saw nothing in myself worthwhile, so I assumed no one else would.
This is something shared with many people who suffer from similar conditions. I, however, was hit by a stroke of luck. I met someone who understood. Not because he himself was going through it, but because he had a close family who was.
To me, it was incomprehensible. Someone who understood what I was going through? Someone I could talk to honestly, who not only understood but actively sympathized? Impossible!
4 causes of mental health issues in a relationship
So, what causes mental health issues? In any relationship, there is the potential for mental health issues to arise. Often, these issues stem from misunderstandings or conflict.
Here are four possible causes of issues related to mental health in relationships.
1. Lack of communication
Lack of communication between partners is a common cause of relationship problems. If you and your partner don’t feel comfortable discussing your feelings and needs, it can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment.
2. Poor boundaries
Poor boundaries are another common cause of relationship problems. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries helps ensure that you maintain respect and dignity in your relationships.
Lack of support or understanding from friends and family can also lead to relationship problems. You may not be able to turn to your friends and family for support when you need it, which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
5. Past trauma
Traumatic experiences from the past can also contribute to the development of mental health issues in a relationship. If someone has experienced abuse in the past, it can leave them with a feeling of low self-esteem and low self-worth, which can cause problems in their current relationships.
10 ways on how to cope with your mental health issues in a relationship
Do you often think, “My mental health is ruining my relationship.” Well, our relationship grew on a foundation of honesty and openness. Looking back, there were some key lessons to be learned:
1. A relationship goes both ways
Granted, it may have helped that he himself didn’t have any mental health issues to speak of. I was able to look after myself without putting other people first.
This did lead to an issue later on – the assumption that because he didn’t have depression or anxiety, he must be fine. I was (as I affectionately call myself) the sick one. I didn’t realize until too late that my health had an issue with him.
Despite being healthy, caring for someone who’s struggling can cause you to struggle.
In a relationship, it’s important to recognise this in your partner.
They may be putting on a brave face in an attempt not to burden you further, but this isn’t healthy for them. Seeing him struggle finally pushed me to seek professional help.
When I was alone, I would wallow in self-pity because the only person I believed I was hurting was myself.
In a relationship, there was a strange duty of care.
It was an important lesson – your toxic habits can hurt the people around you. Be careful you’re not hurting the people you love.
2. Honesty is important
I’ve always been a high-functioning person, pushing down my issues and trying to ignore them.
Spoiler alert – this didn’t end well.
As a relationship requires getting to know someone intimately, I realized quickly that I could lie to myself, but not to him. He was able to pick up on the small hints that I wasn’t doing so well.
We all have off days, and I realized it was better, to be honest about them, than try and hide it. I like to compare physical and mental illnesses.
You can try and ignore your broken leg, but it won’t heal, and you’ll end up worse for it.
Meeting his family and friends is intense enough, without the addition of anxiety nibbling at me the entire time. Additionally, there was the FOMO. The fear of missing out. He and his friends would have plans, and I would be invited.
The usual anxiety alarms would begin blaring, usually along the lines of “what if they hate me?” and “what if I embarrass myself?” The process of recovery is hard, and one of the first steps is learning to ignore these voices and thoughts.
They did represent something worth considering – is this too much for me?
If I can’t go meet his friends or family, not only will I be missing out, but is this a sign of weakness? By not showing up, and I let us both down? In my mind, there was never any doubt. A huge ‘yes’ blazed in neon across my brain. I would be a failure as a girlfriend.
Surprisingly, he took the opposite stance.
It’s ok to have limitations. It’s ok to say “no”. You are not a failure. You’re moving at your own pace and taking time for yourself.
Recovery and management of mental health is a marathon, not a sprint.
4. Emotional vs. practical support
Something my partner and I realized was that I did not want him directly involved in my recovery.
He offered to help me set goals, to set small tasks and encourage me to achieve them. Whereas this can be fantastic and may work for some people, for me this was a huge no.
He could have helped me set goals, simple tasks and milestones to aim for. This posed the risk of failure – if I failed meeting these goals I would be letting him down too. Believing you’ve let yourself down is bad enough.
This all comes down to one thing – the two main types of support.
Sometimes we need practical support. Here is my problem, how can I fix it? Other times, we need emotional support. I feel awful, give me a hug. It’s important to figure out and communicate what sort of support you need.
Mental health is especially tricky, as there often isn’t an easy fix.
For me, I needed emotional support. Initially, there was logic-based problem solving. Who can you speak to about getting help? But as time passed and the relationship went on, I realized I just needed a hug, and to know he was there.
Get help from a mental health professional or therapist if you find that your problems are getting out of hand, or if you need advice on an ongoing basis to help you cope with your relationship problems. There are health professionals who can provide counseling and support for people with mental health issues.
8. Put your health first
Spend time on activities that you love and that help you relax, such as yoga, swimming, meditating, exercising, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or participating in a hobby. It’s important to prioritize your own physical health and take care of your mental health.
Make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. This can help you to feel healthier and better able to manage your stress.
10. Limit alcohol consumption
Drinking alcohol can affect your mental well-being and make mental health problems worse. You should limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than two standard drinks per day for women and one standard drink per day for men.
If you’re drinking alcohol more regularly than this, it could increase your risk of having mental health problems in the future.
For me, trust comes in different forms. My anxiety and depression want me to believe that I’m not worthy of him, that he secretly hates me and wants to leave. I ask for reassurance on these matters more often than I care to admit.
But in doing so, I open an important channel of communication. My partner is aware of how I feel and can reassure me that these fears are, frankly, a load of rubbish.
While it isn’t healthy, I’ve always found it hard to trust myself. I tend to downplay my skills and abilities, convince myself that I’m not worthy of a relationship and happiness.
But I’m taking small steps towards trusting myself, and this is what recovery is.
Coming to terms with my mental illness was hard because I believed I was alone. After putting myself out there, I’ve realized that there are so many people who feel similarly.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that a relationship is not a fix. No amount of external love can force you to love yourself. What’s important is having a support network, and that’s what a relationship should be.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.